Block Museum Pioneers Augmented Reality Software [Video]

Though the art and artifacts on display in the exhibition “Paint the Eyes Softer: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt” are almost 2000 years old, the exhibition is also home to some of the worlds newest digital technology.

Students in a fall 2017 course taught by professors Marc Walton and Taco Terpstra used X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) data to create a three-dimensional density map of the mummy on display in the exhibition. Using these segmented data, Northwestern senior Kyle Engelmann, mentored by Professor Oliver Cossairt and PhD candidate Nathan Matsuda in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, developed an interactive visualization as part of an independent study. Engelmann converted the segmented CT data to a polygon surface representation suitable for real-time display, then developed a rendering model emulating X-ray images. This model, combined with Apple’s visual and inertial odometry tools, provides visitors with a hands-on digital window into the internal structure of the mummy.

The Augmented Reality App is on view throughout the exhibition every Wednesday at noon, and every Sunday during the 3PM docent tour.

Beneath the Surface

Researchers have used X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) data to create a three-dimensional density map of the mummy’s skeleton and other material components. These data indicate that the skeleton is that of a relatively healthy five-year-old child. Viral or bacterial diseases were common at the time, and these factors remain plausible causes of her death. Most of her major organs were removed during the embalming process, but her heart remains in place. As can be seen in the 3D images, the nasal cavity was fractured during the process of removing the brain. Resin was subsequently poured into the cranium, pooling at the base of the skull. The convex surface of the resin shows where it solidified in the back of the head. This suggests that she was placed on an incline during the embalming process. After hardening, the resin broke into fragments. Another notable feature is a dense sphere above her abdomen, perhaps an amulet. A few dozen long, thin wires of equal length have been inserted in the wrappings around her feet and skull. Our analysis shows that these are modern pins, added sometime after excavation to secure loose and fraying wrappings.

Contributions from

  • Olivia Dill, PhD student in Art History
  • Pitawat Mahawattanangul, Materials Science, Class of 2019
  • Nitza Granados, Neuroscience, Class of 2019
  • Aysha Salter-Volz, Anthropology and Art History, Class of 2018

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